Preparing for Law School Success: Twenty Strategies to Help You Get Ready for the Rigors of Law School
By Evangeline M. Mitchell, Esq., Ed.M.
Prior law school preparation during your undergraduate career is an absolute must. The competition between law students to do well is extremely intense. Due to the mandatory first-year grading curve at most law schools, you will be competing against your fellow classmates and your grades are determined relative to how well they do. As an entering law student, you will need an edge over your competition.
Recognize that many of your fellow classmates (many of whom are top scholars and academic superstars from their respective colleges and universities and standouts in other areas) will be getting prepared for their legal studies long before law school even begins. Not doing so can put you at a distinct disadvantage.
These strategies are designed to help get you ready for a tremendously competitive, rigorous and demanding legal education. Follow them, and you will be prepared before your first day of class and be positioned to take on the overwhelming and crazy world of professional legal studies.
1: Challenge yourself academically
Law school is an academic endeavor. Take more difficult and stimulating courses. Push yourself and step out of your intellectual comfort zone.
2: Build solid study skills
Do whatever is necessary to build your study skills throughout your undergraduate career. This is essential for your keeping up with your assignments on a daily basis.
3: Strengthen your reading comprehension skills
Take courses that require a great deal of reading. Most of your time as a law student will be spent pouring over tough and time-consuming reading assignments. Read actively and make sure you fully understand what you have read to the best of your ability.
4: Improve your writing skills
Take classes and get involved in activities that enable you to write often and well. Master the ability to express yourself clearly and to effectively proofread and revise your own writing.
5: Work on good listening skills
Listen attentively, actively and carefully. Engagement in everyday class discussion (many times in esoteric and theoretical subject matter) mandates that you be able to.
6: Develop your problem solving, critical, analytical and logical thinking skills
Take courses like philosophy, logic, and upper-level English that will enhance your ability to problem solve and think critically, analytically and logically. These are key intellectual skills that law students must possess and strengthen.
7: Perfect your public speaking abilities
Most law schools practice a rite of passage known as the “Socratic method” in which professors orally interrogate students about assigned cases usually without any prior warning. You must also take part in moot court, trial advocacy or appellate advocacy exercises where you present legal arguments in front of a panel of judges. Working on your public speaking abilities through participation in mock trial, speech and debate will prepare you to speak competently and confidently in front of an audience of your peers.
8: Practice good research skills
Law students spend a lot of time researching cases, statutes and other legal authorities to assist them in writing assignments. Take courses that require you to complete research papers. Seek opportunities to do research for professors in subject matters you enjoy.
9: Build up your self-confidence and knowledge of self
In class, some law professors will literally tear down anything that you say. During the legal job search, you may have to handle overwhelming rejection. Some law schools foster a “group think” mentality in which people feel pressure to do what everyone else is doing or what will impress their classmates. In order to withstand it all and keep your sanity intact, you must maintain your self-confidence and remain true to yourself.
10: Gain superior time-management skills
Once you begin law school, you will never look at time the same way again. You will never have enough time to do everything required of you and you’ll have to make tough choices. Leisure and fun will likely be luxuries of your pre-law school past. Time management skills are a necessity because you will have a great deal more work to do than time to do it, so practice mastering it now.
11: Improve your ability to communicate with a diversity of people
You will likely encounter a wide range of people in the law school community both inside and outside of class. Befriend and really get to know and learn about a variety of different people from diverse backgrounds. Strong communication and interpersonal skills with all types of people will benefit you throughout your law school journey and in your professional life.
12: Develop your leadership skills
As a future law school student and graduate, you will have many opportunities to serve in leadership capacities. Start developing your leadership skills by getting actively involved in organizations and initiatives. Take advantage of leadership conferences, academies and trainings so you can gain a better understanding of what it means to be a great leader and acquire the tools needed to be successful in establishing a record of accomplishment.
13: Establish relationships with law students and lawyers
Get to know law students and lawyers who have already “been there and done that” who can share their experiences and give you invaluable advice and insight that you may not find in books and don’t want to learn the hard way.
14: Learn the art of networking and relationship building
Read articles and books on how to network and go to events where you can actually practice and perfect this invaluable skill. By failing to network, you can miss out on important potential contacts and opportunities. We all know that in this life success is not only about what you know but just as importantly who you know. Even more, learn how to maintain those contacts by staying connected and building meaningful relationships with the people you meet.
15: Gain legal work experience
Get internships that will give you exposure to what it is really like to be a lawyer, what the work involves, the lifestyles different types of lawyers lead in terms of balancing their professional and personal lives, as well as to get a feel for different legal environments and practice areas. Seek people out, be persistent and be willing to work for free if necessary. The experience you will gain will be worth the wages you would otherwise receive.
16: Start building a solid support system
Law school is an immense challenge not only intellectually, but also mentally and emotionally. Let those people closest to you know what the law school experience will be like beforehand. Make it clear that you can’t do it alone and will need them to support you every step along the way.
17: Participate in pre-law preparation programs
There are different workshops and intensive summer sessions to help students prepare for law school. The Council on Legal Education Opportunity (CLEO) has a number of programs to support you from you freshman year in college up until the bar exam. Contact them and apply as soon as possible. Also research and participate in other similar programs sponsored by the Law School Admission Council (LSAC), individual law schools, nonprofit organizations and commercial businesses.
18: Read about the law school experience
There are now several books to choose from on the market that help to demystify law school. Law school has its own special culture and demands that are unique and different from any other educational experience you have probably undertaken including graduate school. Take responsibility for getting a good sense of what to expect beforehand.
19: Read commercial outlines and listen to audio
Read “commercial” outlines and listen to CDs for your first-year classes including Contracts, Property, Criminal Law, Constitutional Law, Torts, Civil Procedure and Legal Research and Writing. This will assist you tremendously in gaining an overall understanding of the subjects before you take the classes so you will have the “big picture” of what those subjects are about so you won’t go in feeling too overwhelmed and confused.
20: Be determined to stay motivated and remain persistent
Know that there will be times throughout law school where you may doubt your abilities and want to give up. Adopt the motto that you are willing to do “whatever it takes” to succeed. Keep focused on your vision and goals for your future. Take time for yourself to meditate and read or listen to anything uplifting and motivational every single day – be it a song, a sermon or a daily devotional. The difference between your success and failure could be your inner-will to keep moving forward and to press past adversity. Understand that although there may be times when you want to give up, know that you won’t because you’ve already made up your mind that you will persist until you earn your law degree.
Evangeline M. Mitchell, Esq., Ed.M. is a graduate of Prairie View A&M University, the University of Iowa College of Law and the Harvard University Graduate School of Education. She is the founder of the National Black Pre-Law Conference and Law Fair and the National HBCU Pre-Law Summit and Law Expo.
Evangeline M. Mitchell. Copyright © 2005-2018. All rights reserved.